As I sat in Goucher’s study abroad office as a freshman in college listening to the tour guides explain the various programs offered, I was completely enthralled by the large map that hung on the wall opposite me. It had the locations of the programs they offered pinpointed, but my eyes, and heart, could only focus on one destination — Athens, Greece. It was somewhere I could only dream of going to as a child and then, as a young adult, a place that I aspired to make it to.
Fast forward to a year later and I still can’t believe I actually made it. Not only did I make it, but I lived in Athens for four whole months. A year ago today, I was in my apartment at 5 Ipitou Street, probably headed to get a gyro from Kostas with my friends Taylor and Izzy or walking to Bazaar for groceries.
Now, when I think of my time abroad, it’s difficult to focus on anything but the fun memories and good times. Like when I finally said “ευχαριστώ” aloud in public and how the smile on the waiter’s face was indescribably exhilarating; how I met some of the most amazing people that I quickly grew to love and would probably not have otherwise crossed paths with; how I swam in some of the clearest blue water and traveled to some of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen; how my friend Lauren and I both got tattoos in Greek on a random Wednesday afternoon; or how I volunteered at a sea turtle rescue center and actually got to help real sea turtles. These are the moments I think about.
What’s easy to forget about are the tough times. The times I felt lonely and overwhelmed. How when I arrived, I spent most of the first few days in my room wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. How when I talked to family and friends I felt selfish, so I lied and said that everything was great and that things were amazing when I was actually confused and I didn’t know how I felt just yet. How when I walked outside, I noticed the narrow streets full of people; I heard a language that was completely unfamiliar with sounds I’d never heard before; I saw signs that I just couldn’t read with letters and symbols I’d never seen before; I felt the frustration of not being able to communicate and understand what people were saying; and at the time I didn’t quite know anyone well enough to ask if I was the only one who felt like this. As the semester went on, there were times when I was overloaded with work, but my friends were complaining that they didn’t have enough. I heard from so many people time and time again that this was going to be an amazing experience, the experience of a lifetime — yet sometimes I couldn’t help but feel so alone and isolated.
To answer the ever pressing question “was Greece what I expected?” I would have to say no. In all honesty, it just wasn’t. I had been dreaming of going to Greece for so long that I think it was easy to build up all of these expectations of what it would be like. There were just so many things that I wasn’t prepared for.
Now, looking back, I realize that my reality was different than all of the expectations I had; the culture shock I had was real and my feelings were valid. No matter what I felt or how I processed it, I know now that just because my experience wasn’t always amazing every single day — that’s okay. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the beauty of study abroad, but I think it’s also important to realize that at times it can be tough. I think that’s part of the whole experience; there isn’t a way to be one-hundred percent ready for living in a foreign country. It’s learning to not only accept but overcome those struggles that makes studying abroad such a valuable learning experience.
Photo credits: Kalee LaPointe
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